Cherubini: Symphony in D major (CD review)

Also, Medee, Faniska, Lodoiska overtures. Piero Bellugi, Orchestre Sinfonica di Sanremo. Naxos 8.557908.

If you are like me, you may think of Luigi Cherubini as an eighteenth-century Italian composer, whose major works were a Requiem, several masses, and a few operas, but who most folks know today mainly from the opera overtures. I found myself only half right: I got the music but not the date. In fact, Cherubini lived from 1760-1842, a contemporary not only of Mozart and Haydn but of Beethoven, Rossini, Schubert, and Schumann. Unlike these other gentlemen, however, Cherubini did not write four symphonies or nine symphonies or forty-one or a hundred-and-four. He wrote one: the Symphony in D major contained on this disc.

I mean, you'd think that if he were going to write only one symphony, he'd make it a lasting one, but, alas, it probably deserves the neglect it gets. Despite Cherubini having written his one-and-only symphony in 1816, long after Beethoven had revolutionized the nature of the symphony and the symphony orchestra and just a year before Beethoven premiered his Ninth Symphony, Cherubini's little Symphony in D major seems like a throwback to the middle of the previous century.

Its four movements show little spark, novelty, or invention, and even less material that one can remember. After a brief Largo section, conductor Piero Bellugi and the Orchestre Sinfonica de Sanremo help the opening Allegro appear cheerful and bouncy enough. Following that are two middle movements, a Larghetto and a Minuetto, of mediocre quality that probably no one could help. And then things conclude with the best segment, the Allegro assai, which finally injects a little life into the proceedings.

Nevertheless, the most striking characteristic of the whole work is that its movements get progressively shorter as the piece wears on. The first movement is twice as long as the second movement. The second movement is twice as long as the third movement. And the final movement is, well, almost the same length as the third movement but shorter by a few seconds, at least as performed by Maestro Bellugi and his players. The timings are 13:09, 7:31, 4:44, and 4:37 minutes respectively.

The best parts of the disc are, as we might expect, the three opera overtures from Medee, Faniska, and Lodoiska. They display all the brilliance, fervor, menace, and excitement that are missing from the Symphony.

Naxos's sound appears rather dull and flat until you turn up the sound to a goodly volume level, and then it takes on a little glitter of its own. Just don't expect a lot of transparency here, nor much orchestral depth or breadth.

Adapted from a review the author originally published in the $ensible Sound magazine.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa